It’s Democrat vs. Democrat in District 38 Print
Written by Erik Bojnansky, BT Senior Writer   
August 2018

Controversial incumbent Daphne Campbell faces same-party challenger Jason Pizzo

FDistrict38_1lorida State Sen. Daphne Campbell is mingling just outside a tent on NW 151st Street and NW 7th Avenue. She’s there with a hundred or so other people to help dedicate a segment of NW 7th Avenue as Robert “Bobby” L. Parker Memorial Way. Parker, who retired in 2009 as director of the Miami-Dade Police Department after 33 years, took his own life in 2015. He was 62 years old.

Parker was well known for volunteering with local youth groups. In fact, that’s how Campbell says she met Parker and why she sponsored a bill naming this section of road in his honor.

“I’m the one who filed this last year to name the street in his name,” she tells the BT. “That is my bill. I worked hard to make sure we honor him today.”

Campbell, who was first elected as a Florida representative in 2010, is up for reelection in the August 28 primary. She says she has been instrumental in bringing money to her district and addressing her constituents’ concerns.

Thanks in part to her stature in the Haitian-American community, Campbell hasn’t lost an election. In 2016 the Democrat won against five other competitors in a crowded primary for Florida’s open and newly redrawn Senate District 38. She then went on to trounce former legislator Phillip Brutus’s independent run in the general election. This, in spite of being investigated for Medicare fraud (related to nursing homes her family operates) and her tendency to vote with conservative Republican legislators on abortion (she’s pro-life), religion (she has supported clergy “defense” bills), and education (she’s favors expanding private charter schools).

On August 28, Campbell faces just one challenger: Jason Pizzo, a former prosecutor with the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office.

This time there’s a decent chance Campbell will not win. In the 2016 primary race, Campbell garnered 9017 votes, but her Democratic opponents’ combined votes far outstripped hers. All together, 20,061 people voted against Campbell.

“Daphne Campbell has been resilient over the years and finds a way to get reelected in the wake of several scandals,” says Sean Foreman, a professor of political science at Barry University. “We know she has hardcore supporters who follow her to the end, even with all the controversy. But that said, this is a chance for the Democratic Party to purge Daphne Campbell.”

District38_2Technically, the upcoming match between Campbell and Pizzo is a Democratic Party primary. Under normal circumstances in Florida’s closed primary system, voters choose among candidates in their own party; they can’t vote across party lines. But the rules change when the only candidates running are in the same party.

Since both Campbell and Pizzo are running as Democrats, all 249,871 voters in Disrict 38 -- 137,370 Democrats, 37,583 Republicans, and 74,918 affiliated with no party or a party other than Democrat or Republican -- can cast ballots on August 28.

District 38 is a big place, encompassing the entire Greater Miami Beach area from South Beach to Golden Beach, as well as downtown Miami, Park West, Overtown, Wynwood, Omni, Edgewater, the Design District, Buena Vista, Little Haiti, Little River, Liberty City, and the Upper Eastside. District 38 also covers North Bay Village, El Portal, Biscayne Park, Miami Shores, North Miami, Bay Harbor Islands, North Miami Beach, Aventura, and the Skylake-Highland Lakes-Ojus region.

Jason Pizzo, a resident of Eastern Shores in North Miami Beach, also ran in the 2016 District 38 primary, managing to finish second in a field that included former North Miami Mayor Kevin Burns and Miami Beach City Commissioner Michael Góngora.

In this election, Pizzo has received endorsements from the South Florida Council of Firefighters, the municipal workers union AFSCME, the Florida Education Association, the United Teachers of Dade, the Florida AFL-CIO, Equality Florida, State Sen. Barbara Watson of northwest Miami-Dade, the Florida Young Democrats, and the mayors of Miami Beach (Dan Gelber), Aventura (Enid Weisman), North Miami Beach (Beth Spiegel), Miami Shores (Mac Glinn), Bay Harbor Islands (Stephanie Bruder), and Surfside (Daniel Dietch), as well as a number of commissioners from those same municipalities.

Pizzo has a larger campaign account than Campbell, too. As of deadline, state campaign records show he’s raised $413,347, while Campbell has reported raising just $118,859.

District38_3A hefty chunk of Pizzo’s campaign account, $275,000, comes from loans Pizzo extended to himself. Businesses listed under the same address in Bridgewater, New Jersey, as Pizzo & Pizzo Builders and Developers, his family’s real estate development company, kicked in another $24,000.

Pizzo says he’s still a partner in his family’s company and is willing to pump more of his own money into his campaign if needed. “I’ll give whatever it takes,” he tells the BT. “I loaned my campaign $770,000 last time.”

Campbell maintains that she isn’t worried. “Everything’s going fine,” she says. Her major campaign contributors include $9000 from wholesaler Southern Wine and Spirits, $5000 from prolific and controversial lobbyist Ron Book, $5000 from Physicians Dialysis in North Miami Beach, $4000 from Magic City Casino (which wants to build a card room and jai alai fronton in Edgewater), and $3000 from Aventura Hospital owner HCA Healthcare.

Campbell has also picked up endorsements: the Florida Police Benevolent Association, the Florida Medical Association Political Action Committee, 12 state legislators (including state Sen. Lauren Book, daughter of lobbyist Ron Book), El Portal Mayor Claudia Cubillos, Biscayne Park Mayor Tracy Truppman, North Bay Village Vice Mayor Adreana Jackson, Golden Beach Mayor Glenn Singer, Miami Gardens Vice Mayor Erhabor Ighodaro, Miramar Mayor Wayne Messam, and Miramar Vice Mayor Yvette Colbourne. Miramar, it should be noted, is located outside the district.

But Campbell has new controversies to deal with. A video of her birthday party at the Miami Shores Country Club in May 2017 went viral after she received a Kate Spade-branded purse as a gift from Julio Alfonso, who was videotaped shoving a wad of cash inside the purse. Alfonso is the founder of Solidaridad Sin Fronteras, a group that helps foreign health-care workers obtain or renew their licenses to work in the U.S. Campbell says she returned the cash, adding: “It was a joke!” (The website Politico later reported that Campbell had been lobbying for years to pass a bill on behalf of Alfonso’s group.)

District38_4Jake Sanders, president of the Florida Young Democrats, didn’t find it funny. The video incident, plus reports that Campbell had contacted an FPL lobbyist to have power restored for her family members in the wake of Hurricane Irma, was enough for his organization to endorse Pizzo, he says.

“We have a big problem with legislators who use their office for personal gain, and Senator Campbell seems to fall into that category,” Sanders says.

Sanders was also disturbed by a Miami Herald investigation published July 3 that tried to determine where in District 38 Campbell lives. With the help of two of Campbell’s former allies in the Haitian-American community, Nacivre Charles and Carline Paul, the Herald found evidence that the legislator never lived in at least three of the addresses she has registered with the state.

The home that Campbell has owned for the past 20 years, which is where Charles insists she really lives, is located outside District 38. Charles, who told the Herald that Campbell never paid him $20,000 owed for his services during her last campaign, now works for Pizzo’s campaign.

Campbell denounces the story as a lie planted by Pizzo. “When an opponent don’t have nothing to show and don’t have the message and don’t have a platform, they go negative,” she says.

Campbell claims that Pizzo didn’t vote until 2016 and “had no involvement in the community.” She also claims that Pizzo “was a Republican all of his life” until 2016.

Pizzo explains that he was registered as an independent while he was a prosecutor “to ensure impartiality and not appear partisan when administering justice.” Pizzo slams Campbell’s own voting record, stating that she is “often siding with the well-connected special interests and the Tallahassee Republican insiders.”

Pizzo adds that the one time he didn’t vote in a presidential election was 2012, and that was because he and his family were in hiding after his car was stolen by juveniles he once prosecuted. The teens used Pizzo’s car to launch a series of armed robberies before crashing it on the MacArthur Causeway. Pizzo didn’t see it as a coincidence. “We got the hell out of Dodge,” he says, adding that he and the family didn’t return for several weeks.

According to a June 30 Herald story, Pizzo hadn’t voted since 2008. In that article, Pizzo alluded to a “threat” to his family that prevented him from voting in 2012. As for the 16 other elections he skipped, Pizzo admitted to the Herald he didn’t vote because “I was disenchanted with the political process.”

Barry University’s Foreman doubts that District 38 voters will judge Pizzo on his history of voting. “Ken Russell had a similar situation in that he didn’t vote in previous elections,” he says, “and he went on to win the Miami City Commission District 2 race.”

Also, Foreman notes, Pizzo has become far more active since he last ran for District 38. “Since he lost to Daphne Campbell, he has been a loyal foot soldier for other Democratic candidates,” he says. “I think that should earn him goodwill among the party activists who’ve been quite involved in the last several elections in Miami-Dade County.”

Christian Ulvert, a political consultant who is advising Pizzo, says the candidate has assembled a larger coalition of supporters this year than he did during his 2016 campaign. “He was new, running for office for the first time, and he jumped ahead of a crowded field,” Ulvert says.

Chris Norwood, a Democratic consultant who is also part of Pizzo’s campaign team, is sure the head-to-head matchup will work to Pizzo’s advantage. Norwood points out that Campbell won the District 38 seat in 2016 with just 31 percent of the vote. With that in mind, Norwood says, the Pizzo campaign labored to dissuade other Democrats from jumping into the race this year.

“There was a concerted effort to let everyone know that [Pizzo] was going to run again,” he says.

Marleine Bastien, executive director of Fanm Ayisyen nan Miyami (Haitian Women of Miami), says Campbell still has plenty of supporters in the Haitian-American community. “From what I heard, when people call her with a problem, she’s more responsive than other politicians,” Bastien says, adding that she herself is not yet endorsing either candidate.

But carrying just Haitian voters won’t be enough to win District 38. According to the Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections, 32 percent of the district’s voters are Hispanic, 30.4 percent are black, 29.3 percent are white, and 8.4 percent are “other.”

“There’s no more diverse a state senate district -- ethnically or economically-- than this one,” Norwood says, adding that Pizzo has the leadership qualities to represent all of the district’s socio-economic groups.

“Daphne Campbell is a trailblazer,” Norwood adds. “She’s the first Haitian-American senator in the State of Florida, and that’s a milestone, and we should respect that. But I don’t think she has the leadership skills to represent this district.”

Campbell insists she has been representing every part of the district, a fact that she routinely shares with everyone on her e-mail list. “When I am in Tallahassee, every two weeks I let them know what I’m doing,” she says. “I represent 15 cities. Every one of them knows the work I do. I have an open-door policy.”


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